Sunday, 11 April 2010

A gem of a destination

For a long time my mental map of London tended to be made up of little pockets around certain tube stations. I am still vague about large areas of the city, but over the years the pockets have started to join up, so in some areas I can now find my way around fairly easily. My view of history tends to be a bit like that as well. I have pockets of knowledge around some of the major events and memorable characters. Some of the pockets join up, but I am embarrassed to be so vague about others.

All this was brought to mind by yesterday's destination: a little gem at Rycote, just outside Thame. It used to be the chapel for a house that was grand enough in its day to be visited by Charles I, and Elizabeth I; and for Henry VIII to spend one of his honeymoons there.

The grand house is long gone, but the chapel remains. Outside it looks like a very pretty little 15th century church. Inside it is famous for the fine 17th century woodwork. There is also an ancient yew tree in the churchyard.

I was shown round by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, who pointed out the highlights, and gave me enough of the history to remind me of my patchy knowledge of great historical events and characters.

Of course I already knew the memorable stuff about some of the famous people who visited Rycote. Henry VIII (wives), Elizabeth I (body of a weak and feeble woman; heart of a king). But just inside the chapel the ceiling is covered with little gold stars, that were supposedly cut out by Charles I, from a set of playing cards. So I can add to my fragmented knowledge of an unhappy man - Charles I: "wrong but wromantic"*, head chopped off, used to cut up playing cards.

It was a gorgeous day for a ride. The sun shone all day, and although there was a light breeze, it never got strong enough to be described as a wind. I rode out through Henley and up to Stokenchurch before dropping over the escarpment down to Thame. Coming back I used the Phoenix trail to get to Princes Risborough, then home through High Wycombe.

The Phoenix trail is a bit of a mixed blessing on a long ride - it follows an old railway line, so it is flat and traffic free. The result is that it is heavily used by families, and progress can be a bit slow. But it's nice to see so many families cycling together. On the way I overheard the full gamut of parental encouragement, from "do hurry up Angela" and "come along Benjamin" through "watch where you are going Oliver", "look out Penelope"; to "not so fast Veronica" "come back William" and "Zac, where have you gone?".

The tally for the log book is one more church ticked off this year's list, 56 miles added to the annual total, the new bike has covered more than 500 miles, Eddington number risen to 44, and a couple of minor details added to Open Street Map.

* according to Sellars and Yeaman in "1066 and all that"

More on the chapel and here
More on the history
More on the ancient yew

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